Coro’s Blog: On Purpose

Best foot forward: Could the fashion industry be the next big thing in corporate social purpose?

Published on February 26, 2021

In today’s – and even more importantly tomorrow’s – world, businesses that succeed will need to re-engineer their operating models, reinvent strategies, and engage in disruptive innovation. Foresighted businesses are developing a social purpose as the reason they exist to navigate the turbulent times ahead – and be part of the solution to society’s challenges.

A recent article in The Globe & Mail outlined how at least some successful players in the fashion industry – an industry responsible for 10 per cent of annual global carbon emissions — are overhauling their business models, moving toward products and production that do not exploit people and the planet.

As a contributor to the article, I pointed out that for the industry to fully make the changes that must be made for global benefit, the work must be at the sectoral – industry – level, and that it needs to have government support. (See The Sustainable and Just Industry Association Report for examples of how sectors such as fashion can advance collectively, and the role of governments to support them via the sectors’ associations.) We can look at Vancouver-based Textile Lab for Circularity aiming to divert over 20,000 tonnes of apparel that goes into area landfills each year as an example of sector collaboration. Governments also have a role to play, such as in extending producer responsibility requiring companies to take back end-of-use products for recycling and helping set up sector-wide reverse logistics systems.

In September, Canada will host the World Circular Economy Forum, which will be the first time this forum has been held in North America. Some large Canadian apparel companies have signed the UN Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action. I think these are moves in the right direction – a direction that recognizes that the cheap system that moves apparel from the factory to the landfill has to change – and that the new business models being developed in the sector will disrupt the industry for good.

Among the disruptions are the fashion retailers setting up repair and reuse outlets. Patagonia, for example, has its Worn Wear hub where you can buy clothing that is vintage, used, recrafted, or made from other clothes. You can also attend one of their repair events. The Canadian company, Arc’teryx, is thinking “resale, not just retail”, too. It offers repair services and customers can bring gear trade-ins for discounts. And then there are the “clothing as a service” business models, where you rent the clothes you need for as long as you need and then return them. With MUD jeans customers lease their jeans, then return them to be recycled into new denim products in a continuous loop of material. The innovation potential in this sector is no less then profound.

Companies like these and others are part of the new, and growing, breed of businesses that have adopted social purpose to propel their business models. They are transitioning themselves and their entire sectors to be a force for good in the world. And that’s fashionable.

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